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Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas

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From celebrated anthropologist Jennifer Raff comes the untold story—and fascinating mystery—of how humans migrated to the Americas. Origin is the story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. Origin provides an overvie From celebrated anthropologist Jennifer Raff comes the untold story—and fascinating mystery—of how humans migrated to the Americas. Origin is the story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. Origin provides an overview of these new histories throughout North and South America, and a glimpse into how the tools of genetics reveal details about human history and evolution. 20,000 years ago, people crossed a great land bridge from Siberia into Western Alaska and then dispersed southward into what is now called the Americas. Until we venture out to other worlds, this remains the last time our species has populated an entirely new place, and this event has been a subject of deep fascination and controversy. No written records—and scant archaeological evidence—exist to tell us what happened or how it took place. Many different models have been proposed to explain how the Americas were peopled and what happened in the thousands of years that followed. A study of both past and present, Origin explores how genetics is currently being used to construct narratives that profoundly impact Indigenous peoples of the Americas. It serves as a primer for anyone interested in how genetics has become entangled with identity in the way that society addresses the question "Who is indigenous?"


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From celebrated anthropologist Jennifer Raff comes the untold story—and fascinating mystery—of how humans migrated to the Americas. Origin is the story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. Origin provides an overvie From celebrated anthropologist Jennifer Raff comes the untold story—and fascinating mystery—of how humans migrated to the Americas. Origin is the story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. Origin provides an overview of these new histories throughout North and South America, and a glimpse into how the tools of genetics reveal details about human history and evolution. 20,000 years ago, people crossed a great land bridge from Siberia into Western Alaska and then dispersed southward into what is now called the Americas. Until we venture out to other worlds, this remains the last time our species has populated an entirely new place, and this event has been a subject of deep fascination and controversy. No written records—and scant archaeological evidence—exist to tell us what happened or how it took place. Many different models have been proposed to explain how the Americas were peopled and what happened in the thousands of years that followed. A study of both past and present, Origin explores how genetics is currently being used to construct narratives that profoundly impact Indigenous peoples of the Americas. It serves as a primer for anyone interested in how genetics has become entangled with identity in the way that society addresses the question "Who is indigenous?"

30 review for Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas

  1. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book provides a conjectured history of the first human inhabitants of North and South America based on current knowledge of archaeology, anthropology, and genetics. In addition to the language of science the author provides occasional narrative vignettes that imagine the life experiences of those human who’s remains have been uncovered and dated as among the first peoples. This book is also noteworthy in that it goes to great lengths to show respect and sensitivity to the perspective of tod This book provides a conjectured history of the first human inhabitants of North and South America based on current knowledge of archaeology, anthropology, and genetics. In addition to the language of science the author provides occasional narrative vignettes that imagine the life experiences of those human who’s remains have been uncovered and dated as among the first peoples. This book is also noteworthy in that it goes to great lengths to show respect and sensitivity to the perspective of today’s Native Americans regarding the study of their origins. Thus this book opens with a Land Acknowledgment Statement, and throughout the book’s narrative frequent mention is made of instances in the past when the perspectives of Native Americans were not given due respect. The author is a geneticist and is currently an associate professor at the University of Kansas. Thus she can refer to past theories such as Clovis First as being ideas that have been modified by recent new capabilities of her own specialty, anthropological genetics. One of the newest theories of the first peoples is that they lived in an area between Alaska and Siberia during the last Ice Age now referred to as Beringia. Genetics support this theory because genetics shows that they remained genetically isolated from humans living further south in Eastern Asia, and this was a time 20,000 years ago when both Siberia and North America were covered with ice. It was from this population that the first peoples entered Americas, the timing of which is still somewhat debated. (view spoiler)[In the past when I read about people crossing the "land bridge" from Siberia to Alaska, I imagined a narrow strip of land with oceans visible of either side. This book describes this area as being twice the size of Texas, and there is reason to believe that they lived in the area for many thousands of years. This area is now under water since the sea level has risen due to the melting of ice that covered much of northern Asia and North America. (hide spoiler)] The book also has chapters on what genetics says about the spread of humans through the North American Arctic and the Caribbean. There’s also a chapter describing the extreme measures taken to guard against contamination of samples taken from ancient human bones that are subjected to DNA analysis.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sage

    One of the best books I've read in a long while. Jennifer Raff is a great writer. Origin is interesting for its subject matter, but she makes paleogenetics riveting. Over the course of this book, she describes in detail how paleogeneticists uncover the history of ancient peoples, giving a critique of the problematic (and extraordinarily racist) history of the field and what has been done in recent years to heal the the entirely valid distrust between Native communities and researchers. She shows One of the best books I've read in a long while. Jennifer Raff is a great writer. Origin is interesting for its subject matter, but she makes paleogenetics riveting. Over the course of this book, she describes in detail how paleogeneticists uncover the history of ancient peoples, giving a critique of the problematic (and extraordinarily racist) history of the field and what has been done in recent years to heal the the entirely valid distrust between Native communities and researchers. She shows how ancient DNA is extracted and analyzed. She examines the archaeological data, context, dating methods, and virulent disagreements concerning "good" sites containing human evidence from the deep past. She provides a world-class primer on scientific research ethics and how to build trusting relationships among stakeholder communities. And she lays out the state of the science concerning how Native peoples moved from Siberia to places as far afield as Florida, Chile, and the Greater Antilles. (Extra points for describing the North American ice wall from the last glacier maximum as six times taller than the wall from Game of Thrones.) This book is written for general readers, not specialists, and it's clear that Raff is involved in science education, because every chapter is accessible, perfectly structured, and crystal clear. Also, the further reading resources seem fantastic. I very much look forward to whatever Raff publishes next (and secretly wish she had time to teach other scientists how to write books, because this was a joy). Five stars. ARC

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Heavily padded. Raff stresses that she is not an archaeologist, but the book would really have benefited from more archaeological detail. (And a little less hitting us over the head with cultural sensitivities. We get it.) > Jefferson’s approach—direct testing by excavation and observation—previewed the best and worst of the scientific approaches in modern archaeology and physical anthropology by more than a century, and he is often referred to as the “Father of American archaeology.” > The Clovi Heavily padded. Raff stresses that she is not an archaeologist, but the book would really have benefited from more archaeological detail. (And a little less hitting us over the head with cultural sensitivities. We get it.) > Jefferson’s approach—direct testing by excavation and observation—previewed the best and worst of the scientific approaches in modern archaeology and physical anthropology by more than a century, and he is often referred to as the “Father of American archaeology.” > The Clovis culture was swift to rise but short-lived. Clovis points disappear from the archaeological record about 200 years after they first appeared. The nomadic North American hunters were so skilled with the lethal Clovis points that just a millennium later all the megafauna—some 70 species—had been hunted to extinction > to apply the term failed migrations to these cases is demeaning and highly problematic from an archaeological standpoint. “‘Failed migration’ is a phrase used to sweep (pre-Clovis sites) under the rug and not confront or think about (them),” archaeologist Michael Waters told me in an email. They were people with their own histories and stories that deserve to be acknowledged as more than “failures,” regardless of whether or not they contributed DNA to later generations. > genetic studies of present-day dogs in the Americas show that the original dogs (First Dogs?) are all but extinct. Of all dogs sampled, only a few (including a chihuahua) showed any ancestry from the First Dogs. Population history models show that they were largely replaced by dogs brought over from Europe

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wallace Kaufman

    I have begun The Wrath of Raff. And that's how the introduction and first chapter sound to someone expecting science instead of a lecture on white guilt. She casts a pall of suspicion over any science that is likely to follow when she talks about the virtue of researchers who "prioritize indigenous tradition and knowledge and origins." This would be like saying of the study of earth's geological history that the best way to do it is to prioritize the knowledge and traditions of creationists. Afte I have begun The Wrath of Raff. And that's how the introduction and first chapter sound to someone expecting science instead of a lecture on white guilt. She casts a pall of suspicion over any science that is likely to follow when she talks about the virtue of researchers who "prioritize indigenous tradition and knowledge and origins." This would be like saying of the study of earth's geological history that the best way to do it is to prioritize the knowledge and traditions of creationists. After all, first peoples of the Americas were almost always creationists and fundamentalists. Respecting them and their mythologies is civil and necessary. (Same for creationists.) Prioritizing their "knowledge" announces that science is peripheral and should not contradict tradition, especially if the science is conducted by a white person. She begins with servile approval of getting tribal approval for the study of bones and DNA over 10,000 years old. This is like having to ask me if the DNA of the Ice Man in the Alps can be studied, or if a Jewish cemetery in Prague can be moved (my paternal great grandparents came from that area, and that's a closer connection than the Klingit have to 10,000 year old bones in an Alaskan cave. And, of course, she demands I must begin this consideration of first peoples with "self-scrutiny." For a far more scientific and less politicized story of ancient DNA, including in the Americas, read David Reich's "Who We Are And How We Got Here." Compare it to Origin" and it is like astronomy compared to astrology. Reich also draws lessons for today's ethnic and racial conflicts, but in a way that draws on science not a template of CRT. I'll read a few more chapters or maybe skip to where she's promised to talk about DNA revelations. But if she is constantly berating me for being white and the beneficiary of what she has already called "atrocities" of Europeans several times, I won't punish myself. Maybe I'm wrong: maybe she will even mention the atrocities of Indians colonizing other Indians--like Quetzalcoatl's conquest of the Maya or the itinerant Sioux riding Spanish horses to terrorize and burn down complex Mandan villages with thousands of residents. (My first experience in archeology was as a digger on the massive Swan Creek Mandan site in South Dakota.) I am repulsed by people like Rath not so much because of their naïve bias or their servility to indigenous people or their validation of a favored creationism, but by their obvious anger and mean spiritedness. We have enough anger and division. Science should be saved from it. We have very good evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists and also neuroscientists and geneticists whose conclusions about the universality of human nature, its strengths and failings, effectively destroy prejudice with facts. We don't need propagandists parading as scholars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jessaka

    My reason for reading this book is because I wish to see if my DNA test lined up with the beliefs in this book.... They did. I grew up believing that I was German, Cherokee, French, and Irish. My mother believed her self to be 1⁄2 Indian. Her mother even posed for Indian calendars. . We thought it was rather cool. We'd like the naked picture of her that was airbrushed and done by a studio in Duluth Ohio. Not part of the Indian calendar I'm sure. When I was in grammar school a girl asked me if I we My reason for reading this book is because I wish to see if my DNA test lined up with the beliefs in this book.... They did. I grew up believing that I was German, Cherokee, French, and Irish. My mother believed her self to be 1⁄2 Indian. Her mother even posed for Indian calendars. . We thought it was rather cool. We'd like the naked picture of her that was airbrushed and done by a studio in Duluth Ohio. Not part of the Indian calendar I'm sure. When I was in grammar school a girl asked me if I were Mexican. I just said no. I did not know why my skin was brown, but I loved it And as I grew older I wish to even be darker. This was before I was told that I was part Cherokee. My niece got on ancestry.com and did research into our family finding that yes we were German, French, and Irish. Next, my siblings had their DNA taken and it Was correct, but very little of the American Indian heritage showed up. I refused to take the test from that company and went to CRI Genetics and learned the same thing but I also learned that my mother was from India, china, japan, and south America. CRI Genetic said that that was my Indian heritage, so I am 1⁄8 Indian. Not enough but at least I have proved that the story that was passed down in my family was true. This book said the same about the origins of native Americans, but it was is a very difficult book to read. There were parts of it that I found interesting though.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff If you want to understand what the latest research shows about the peopling of the Americas, then Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff may be the book for you. Raff is an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas and is the President of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics. How and when did the Native Americans of the Americas and the Inuit of the northern lands come to live in t Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff If you want to understand what the latest research shows about the peopling of the Americas, then Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff may be the book for you. Raff is an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas and is the President of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics. How and when did the Native Americans of the Americas and the Inuit of the northern lands come to live in the Western Hemisphere? She explains that the theory until recently that all the inhabitants came in three waves out of Asia isn’t quite supported by the most recent evidence and that there is strong evidence to support some earliest inhabitants actually came by water along the Pacific Coast. A few minor criticisms. The writing is not elegant but it is clear. Usually, but not always. One case was the following sentence: “Now imagine the temperature about twice as cold.” What does that mean? If it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit, does it mean now imagine day when it was 20 degrees? Or is the measurement in Celsius? That would be different. But usually the meaning is clear throughout the book. A bigger problem is the paucity of footnotes, even where they are definitely called for. I trust that she knows her material, but there are some issues like the evolution of the dogs who accompanied the first inhabitants where more footnotes are called for as she says the recent research has changed. This problem of fewer footnotes (or endnotes)—in some cases many fewer footnotes—seems to be an increasing problem in works of serious nonfiction. She is very repetitive in her statements about lack of sensitivity in the treatment by researchers of the remains of Native Americans/First Peoples. But I’m not sure at all that that should be a criticism. I think that she is generally right to make this point on a number of occasions. And at the end of the book, when she recounts the why the Kennewick Man’s remains were handled and tested, she really tells this story as well as any account that I I have read. (The Kennewick Man refers to a skeleton found along the Columbia River. The remains were about 9,000 years old, and some who first examined those remains postulated that he was of European origin. The final results proved otherwise.) She easily provides the best detailed description I’ve ever read about DNA extraction and laboratory handling of ancient bones … she makes it methodical (she mentions that it can be so boring at times that listening to music or podcasts in the lab as she works is necessary) and fascinating at the same time. She does such a good job of reporting excitement shared with the need for cautious reporting of results. She is clearly cognizant of the latest work going on in the lab of David Reich at Harvard. She cites it several times, and it is important work indeed. Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past is probably the best work available on the overall peopling of the Earth. It is a more difficult read than Raff’s book but is still a work to read either before or after the book by Raff. Finally, she is excellent about the state of play in what we know and what we believe we know about the peopling of the Americas. As an important case, she reports the latest research including the anomaly relating to a discovery in 2016 of possible Australasian ancestry in some native South American populations. And she explains how strange this result is. I’ll just say that after much analysis it does not suggest a Transpacific migration. You can read the book to understand the two different possibilities that it does suggest. And if you have any interest at all how the Western Hemisphere came to be populated before Europeans arrived in 1492, that’s exactly what I recommend. Read the book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Wenger

    Conventional wisdom says the first humans to enter the Americas were the Clovis people, crossing the Beringia corridor 13,000-14,000 years ago. Yet tantalizing archeological evidence suggests the first migration may have been earlier, via a water route along the coast about 20,000 years ago, while ice sheets prevented an incursion over land. Since the land that made up the coast at the time is now under water, finding indisputable proof is difficult. That's where genetics comes in. In this fasci Conventional wisdom says the first humans to enter the Americas were the Clovis people, crossing the Beringia corridor 13,000-14,000 years ago. Yet tantalizing archeological evidence suggests the first migration may have been earlier, via a water route along the coast about 20,000 years ago, while ice sheets prevented an incursion over land. Since the land that made up the coast at the time is now under water, finding indisputable proof is difficult. That's where genetics comes in. In this fascinating and accessible book, anthropological geneticist and science communicator Jennifer Raff provides proof through genetics that eludes archeologists. She also explores how Native Americans have defined their own origins, and how a long history of exploitation and distrust impedes scientific research. Ultimately, the message is one of hope and discovery. Written for a lay audience, this book covers the subject extensively, from a variety of perspectives, in a way that's clear, sensitive, and understandable. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the subject. Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fk

    Despite my great interest in the topic (the peopling of the Americas) this book was a great disappointment. It was way too long, too rambling, packed with nonessential footnotes, discontinuous sidebars that interrupted the narrative flow, and irritatingly excessive "wokeness." The technical content, its main point, could have been much more concisely and clearly explained. Even the images were badly done, with many maps printed in small scale in low contrast grey-on-grey with microscopic fonts. Despite my great interest in the topic (the peopling of the Americas) this book was a great disappointment. It was way too long, too rambling, packed with nonessential footnotes, discontinuous sidebars that interrupted the narrative flow, and irritatingly excessive "wokeness." The technical content, its main point, could have been much more concisely and clearly explained. Even the images were badly done, with many maps printed in small scale in low contrast grey-on-grey with microscopic fonts. There are implications that Native American mythology is as valid a truth as the author's own current science, and repeated insults of previous scientific techniques, which "linger like the smell of stale cigarette smoke." The message seems to be that 19th century archeologists should have used 21st century DNA studies, after first getting permission from the 300th generation descendants of the skeletons they unearthed. Yes, mistakes and abuses were made - but those were also made by indigenous tribes against other indigenous tribes. Yes, scientists should be respectful of culture. But those and other points could have been made in 80 well written pages instead of 280.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Chaikin

    32. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff reader: Tanis Parenteau published: 2022 format: 9:12 audible audiobook (368 pages in hardcover) acquired: June 11 listened: Jun 11-23 rating: 4 genre/style: Science theme: Random audio locations: American hemisphere about the author: an American geneticist and an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, and president of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics. She was born in Carbondale, Illinois in 1979 32. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff reader: Tanis Parenteau published: 2022 format: 9:12 audible audiobook (368 pages in hardcover) acquired: June 11 listened: Jun 11-23 rating: 4 genre/style: Science theme: Random audio locations: American hemisphere about the author: an American geneticist and an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, and president of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics. She was born in Carbondale, Illinois in 1979 and grew up in Missouri and Indiana. I sampled this audiobook based a recommendation, and also because the title interested me. And I kept going because Raff writes engagingly and its well narrated. It's a little strange in that it focuses so much on the ethics of genetic research of American heritage, and in that it gives such a generalized light touch on the actual genetic insight into the pre-history of the Americas. But it was enjoyable to listen to and it provides an overview of the history, nature and state of the science. And I learned some cool stuff. Recommended if that interests. (side note: I was charmed that Raff is associated with KU, where I have an MS, and also that she makes a statement up front acknowledging the native American predecessors to Lawrence, KS)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    The peopling of the Americas, the arrival here of anatomically modern humans, and their development into the peoples I was originally taught to call American Indians and a little later Native Americans, is far more complicated than I was taught in school. It's pretty clear at this point that humans didn't first arrive here a mere ten to twelve thousand years ago. It also appears clear, based on genetic evidence, that they arrived in more than one wave. And beyond that, it's really, really complic The peopling of the Americas, the arrival here of anatomically modern humans, and their development into the peoples I was originally taught to call American Indians and a little later Native Americans, is far more complicated than I was taught in school. It's pretty clear at this point that humans didn't first arrive here a mere ten to twelve thousand years ago. It also appears clear, based on genetic evidence, that they arrived in more than one wave. And beyond that, it's really, really complicated. The reasons for the complexities are partly the fact that it's very difficult to recover ancient DNA, especially from bones that were buried in warm, wet environments. We also don't have a lot of tools much older than 12 to 15 thousand years ago that are clearly human-made tools. Some, but not enormous numbers. There are indigenous oral traditions--that for a very long time, non-indigenous scientists and researchers ignored, that governments in the USA and Canada, as well as countries in the Americas tried to destroy along with indigenous languages. Now that there are researchers listening to the indigenous oral histories that do survive, they often provide information that matches up with genetic information with the result that the two information sources enhance each other. Of, as did make some real news in the last decade or so, useful information about the dangers of settling close to the shore (i.e., periodically there are major natural disasters that we can't deal with by having better building codes.) Raff doesn't mention that one (she's a geneticist, not an earth scientist), but I do remember when in it was in the news. Further complicating things are not just the various major and obvious atrocities against indigenous peoples of the Americas, but specifically arrogance, disrespect, and deceit in conducting genetic research on indigenous peoples. Lying to people about what you're going to use their genetic material to research is a guaranteed way to miake people angry, and consequently hostile to future requests. Rebuilding relations with specific indigenous communities, to gain their cooperation and ensure respect and consideration to start to heal the rifts and continue to learn more, is both essential and difficult. Raff tells the story very well, far better than I can describe it. It makes this an interesting and enlightening story. Recommended. I bought this audiobook.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Xavier Bonilla

    This book was absolutely fantastic! We have many misunderstandings and unknown facts about how first peoples got to the Americas. Raff mixes genetics, history, and some archaeology to look at new data and consider some strong alternatives. A wonderful aspect of this book is Raff’s respect and inclusivity with current native tribes to conduct research. Highly accessible and extremely important, this is a brilliant book!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    Dr. Raff presents a fascinating overview of prevailing knowledge of the original peopling of the Americas, and she does so with a clear respect for Indigenous peoples that is so often lacking in this field. While I found her writing most engaging in the stories she tells to give depth to the site discoveries, I found myself regularly wondering just how much of those stories themselves is supported by the evidence. That said, the book overall is full of an incredible amount of evidence and discus Dr. Raff presents a fascinating overview of prevailing knowledge of the original peopling of the Americas, and she does so with a clear respect for Indigenous peoples that is so often lacking in this field. While I found her writing most engaging in the stories she tells to give depth to the site discoveries, I found myself regularly wondering just how much of those stories themselves is supported by the evidence. That said, the book overall is full of an incredible amount of evidence and discussion of what is readily agreed upon in the field and where there is controversy. I'm hardly a geneticist or an anthropologist, but I do read a lot of scientific texts (both peer-reviewed and for more lay audiences), and there were times where I had a lot of trouble keeping up. It wasn't that the book is laden with jargon (it's not), but it does assume a certain familiarity with the fundamentals of the science. More impactfully, for me at least, is that the discussion of these ancient sites and timelines was really hard for me to imagine or contextualize. Having grown up in the United States with a public school education, we really only learned about US History from 1492 onward, with a very dominant and rose-colored lens on European colonization. We didn't learn about history anywhere else or the history of the Americas prior to European colonization at all. So the difference between 12,000 years ago and 15,000 years ago doesn't mean anything to my brain - my perception of human history only extends back about 500 years. While I obviously know people have existed a lot longer, I know next to nothing about them, and that makes some of the details here really hard for me to follow. I also don't want to hit on this point too hard because I received an eARC and the figures were clearly not finalized, but I really felt like some additional figures could have helped A LOT. Some visual timelines, maps of the sites, more pictures of artifacts all could have really helped me understand better what I was reading. Overall, there were elements of this book that I really enjoyed -- especially around partnership with communities in research and the way she described the lives of those who inhabited the sites -- but overall a lot of this book felt kind of like a slog to me with time periods tough to differentiate. I'm still glad to have read it though, and maybe I'll have to learn more about human history and read it again. Much appreciation to Twelve and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for the review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris Bogg

    The topic is super interesting but this book was disappointing. In fairness, I listened to the audio book and the print version may be better. The author’s voice (or whoever read the audio book) is pretty dry and difficult to follow. It also isn’t helpful in the audiobook to hear references to sidebars that I can’t see and that are never explained. My only other beef is the frequent asides relating to modern day political correctness. For example, it isn’t helpful when the author laboriously exp The topic is super interesting but this book was disappointing. In fairness, I listened to the audio book and the print version may be better. The author’s voice (or whoever read the audio book) is pretty dry and difficult to follow. It also isn’t helpful in the audiobook to hear references to sidebars that I can’t see and that are never explained. My only other beef is the frequent asides relating to modern day political correctness. For example, it isn’t helpful when the author laboriously explains the difference between sex and gender as recently defined. It felt at times more like an ideology seeping through the storyline where the story alone is interesting enough on its own. The modern day political color commentary weighs it down.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephan Benzkofer

    Origin likely deserves more stars, and I blame the title. Or maybe the subtitle. Neither is inaccurate, per se, but more misleading by omission. So, as it turns out — no spoilers here — anthropology and all of its specialties (paleoanthropology, archaeology, genetic anthropology, etc.) have a mostly terrible history of unethical and downright criminal interactions with Native peoples around the world, ranging from insensitivities to grave robbing. Jennifer Raff provides a pretty thorough account Origin likely deserves more stars, and I blame the title. Or maybe the subtitle. Neither is inaccurate, per se, but more misleading by omission. So, as it turns out — no spoilers here — anthropology and all of its specialties (paleoanthropology, archaeology, genetic anthropology, etc.) have a mostly terrible history of unethical and downright criminal interactions with Native peoples around the world, ranging from insensitivities to grave robbing. Jennifer Raff provides a pretty thorough account of the main abusers, many of whom were prominent in their fields, and how their actions poisoned current attempts to partner with many Native communities. (The situation hasn't improved a great deal because abuse continues.) This covers a good portion of the beginning of the book. This was OK for me; I like getting a lay of the land. The problem for me was that the author kept coming back to the subject, so much so that I was pretty sick of it by the end. I kept thinking, "Where's my genetic history of the Americas?" Also, for me, listening to the audiobook, the repeated interruption of the story about the genetics with the ethical issues made it hard to follow, and that's a shame because she explodes what for me was my rough understanding of how the Americas was peopled (land bridge over the Bering Strait*), while explaining in great detail how the reality is so much more complex and interesting. I also liked that she provided a detailed description of the lab work required to extract and study ancient DNA, from the extreme measures needed to prevent sample contamination to the painstaking process of actually gathering the genetic material. Finally, the author's writing is lively and conversational, and she does a fine job explaining complex scientific ideas. Like I said, I blame the subtitle. * One cool fact to share: She writes that the phrase "land bridge" is misleading, implying a narrow strip of earth or ice that people used to get from A to B. But she says it would be more accurate to call it the Beringian continent. A subsequent internet search tells me that Beringia is considered to include a big chunk of Siberia in the west all the way into Canada in the East, so certainly more than just the Bering Sea. And it wasn't a fleeting pathway but lasted thousands of years and was itself home to people for many centuries.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    For a much better book on this subject, read Who We Are And How We Got Here by David Reich. This book is a little more up to date than Reich and is more closely focused on genetic analysis of indigenous people in the Americas, so it has some valuable information for anyone interested in this subject, but it also has some serious flaws. On a basic level, it flips back and forth between being too simple and too complex. Sometimes Ms. Raff seems to be writing for an audience with a fifth grade educ For a much better book on this subject, read Who We Are And How We Got Here by David Reich. This book is a little more up to date than Reich and is more closely focused on genetic analysis of indigenous people in the Americas, so it has some valuable information for anyone interested in this subject, but it also has some serious flaws. On a basic level, it flips back and forth between being too simple and too complex. Sometimes Ms. Raff seems to be writing for an audience with a fifth grade education and then she shifts into reasoning and terminology that is highly technical and not well enough explained. But the main thing that I didn't like about this book is a tone that I found strident and fussy. It just wasn't engaging, and Ms. Raff was not able to project her personality onto the page in a way that made her likeable. Ms. Raff should have spent an additional six months rewriting the book or should have found a better editor. And on nearly every page is a constant emphasis on political correctness. I acknowledge that in the past indigenous peoples in the Americas have been treated with shameful disrespect by people studying them, and I also acknowledge that taking and studying genetic samples from living and dead people presents profound ethicial issues that must be addressed, but I found Ms. Raff to be awkward and unpleasant in the way that she addresses these very valid concerns. I think that if I were a member of a tribal council considering a study request from Ms. Raff, my response would be "I know you mean well, white lady. Thank you for caring, but you don't get it. Please leave us alone."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schoettinger

    when I was in grade school more than 60 years ago, I learned that the ancestors of indigenous Americans walked across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age. When the ice melted the land bridge was sunk beneath the Bering Strait and the migrations to America from the west ceased. This is still the simple version of the story of the First Americans, however during the intervening six decades, a number of sites in the Western Hemisphere have been found that suggest huma when I was in grade school more than 60 years ago, I learned that the ancestors of indigenous Americans walked across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age. When the ice melted the land bridge was sunk beneath the Bering Strait and the migrations to America from the west ceased. This is still the simple version of the story of the First Americans, however during the intervening six decades, a number of sites in the Western Hemisphere have been found that suggest human residence prior to the existence of the land bridge. Since geologists seem to be fairly certain of the Ice Age dates, these older sites have caused a great deal of difficulty for those who are unwilling to accept caveats in the land bridge explanation that was the accepted wisdom of the twentieth century. Dr, Raff is a geneticist whose reading of the DNA trails of indigenous Americans is not inconsistent with the existence of these early sites. She agrees with the GEICO caveman that our Stone Age predecessors were not all dumb, hulking brutes who could only get from point A to point B by walking, and suggests that they possessed sufficient maritime technology to get small groups of people around the glaciers to the more southerly ice-free coasts. Most of the book is about the unfolding debate on American origins and the discoveries that contributed to that debate. She also details the laborious work involved in coaxing DNA out of centuries-old remains, the procedures for which she is personally familiar with. However, currently she spends much of her time consulting with tribal councils in attempts to obtain access to the DNA of the living descendants of the First Americans. She spends much of the book explaining the hesitancy of these descendants in releasing their DNA for scientific purposes. I found this book interesting and informative, but probably intended for those readers who already had some interest in the subject.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christy Martin

    Jennifer Raff writes a very compelling story of genetics and indigenous peoples of the Americas. Her book, while based on science, is readable and interesting to the general public and anyone interested in origins. She debunks many old theories while laying them out in a common-sense way for the era in which they were formatted and lays the groundwork for new and exciting work done in the present and future on where the people that originally settled the Americas came from. Raff is not critical Jennifer Raff writes a very compelling story of genetics and indigenous peoples of the Americas. Her book, while based on science, is readable and interesting to the general public and anyone interested in origins. She debunks many old theories while laying them out in a common-sense way for the era in which they were formatted and lays the groundwork for new and exciting work done in the present and future on where the people that originally settled the Americas came from. Raff is not critical of theories of the past but does present them in the reality of the days they became accepted, which was a time and place of prejudice and ignorance about things and people not understood. Indigenous peoples were viewed as less than people with European ancestry and that view made abuse of the land and the people acceptable. Those with European ancestry often viewed themselves as superior in their knowledge, spiritual awareness, and genetics. It is a book worth reading for its science and its explanations of events. Thanks to #NetGalley#Origin for the opportunity to read and review this important book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    William

    I know nothing about genetics or archaeology, and this book made it easy for me to understand how Raff and others who study the past have arrived at their conclusions, or in this case, still forming hypotheses. I will also say that the book is informative in how scientists deal with the very real cultural and historical issues that surround chronicling the history of Indigenous people in the Americas. The book is more about the genetics though, and could have used a little more on the archaeolog I know nothing about genetics or archaeology, and this book made it easy for me to understand how Raff and others who study the past have arrived at their conclusions, or in this case, still forming hypotheses. I will also say that the book is informative in how scientists deal with the very real cultural and historical issues that surround chronicling the history of Indigenous people in the Americas. The book is more about the genetics though, and could have used a little more on the archaeological side. I counted off though because the author goes to great lengths to inform the reader on issues of Indigenous sensitivity, occasionally the point of distraction. It's obvious that Raff cares a great deal about "getting it right." The passion she feels for this, though, occasionally gets in the way of the story. For example, she goes into detail about how the term "failed migrations" marginalizes people groups which did not leave a significant mark - but we're talking about a perceived sensitivity to people living perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, and the "failure," as I understand it, is not a value judgment as much as a way of distinguishing them.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I enjoyed this book. I liked how Dr. Raff put herself into the story, explaining the intricacies of working with Indigenous people and the challenges of working in an ancient-DNA lab, amongst a wide variety of other topics. I liked Raff’s enthusiasm and clear explanations of science. But the book is more than just science. It is history and ethics as well. I also feel that the book is important, that we should have a better understanding of the original inhabitants of North and South America. Wh I enjoyed this book. I liked how Dr. Raff put herself into the story, explaining the intricacies of working with Indigenous people and the challenges of working in an ancient-DNA lab, amongst a wide variety of other topics. I liked Raff’s enthusiasm and clear explanations of science. But the book is more than just science. It is history and ethics as well. I also feel that the book is important, that we should have a better understanding of the original inhabitants of North and South America. While Raff has certain interpretations of the information, I did not find her dogmatic. She presents both sides of an argument and uses data to support one side or the other. Overall, the book has a conversational, friendly tone and it was a pleasure to read. I recommend it for anyone interested in history and science. Thank you to Netgalley and Twelve Books for the advance reader copy.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a recent book in paleogenetics by an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas. Paleogenetics seems to be the application of genetic science to the study archaic populations. In this way, paleogenetics can be seen as the interaction of genetics with anthropology and archaeology to address longstanding issues, solving some and opening up others. This entire area is exciting and I look forward to more work being published in books for general audiences, along with the large numbers o This is a recent book in paleogenetics by an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas. Paleogenetics seems to be the application of genetic science to the study archaic populations. In this way, paleogenetics can be seen as the interaction of genetics with anthropology and archaeology to address longstanding issues, solving some and opening up others. This entire area is exciting and I look forward to more work being published in books for general audiences, along with the large numbers of studies and academic journal pieces being published. What makes this book valuable? To start with, Professor Raff motivates the book with one of the relatively few anthropological issues of which the general public is aware and has interest in — how did native populations arrive in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus and all the Westerners who followed on the scene and the terrible results that followed? If you asked people, I would expect that most who had an opinion would say that the first peoples arrived in North America via a land bridge from Siberia about 13,000 years ago. This was apparently close to a consensus view of the state of research in the field. In recent years, there has been a flood of findings suggesting that this consensus view is wrong and much evidence that modern humans arrived in North America and dispersed throughout the Americas much earlier than had been thought. There is also much dispute about the paths that new arrivals told, whether through a passage through a great ice wall or by a passage down the coastal areas of the Americas - or both. Professor Rath is reporting on a “paradigm shift” by which prevailing assumptions are overturned and new understandings develop. This is one of the most exciting times in any field of study and her account clearly shows this for anthropology. That would be enough to make the book valuable but there is more. The book also is exceptional at talking about the role of methods and careful practice in the conduct of studies. The techniques employed in her labs seem analogous to the scenes common in medical research, especially in combatting infectious diseases. This is as far from the world of Indiana Jones as one can imagine, at least in some parts. It is clear that there is substantial craft in the conduct of this research and it should help readers appreciate what goes into these findings. Professor Raff’s book is also exceptional for its focus on research ethics. Studies of ancient DNA samples concern the ancestors of real tribal communities that value their heritage and are rightfully suspicious of outside researchers using the remains of their distant relatives as the grist for publishing some additional papers and gaining professional recognition. With all that has come to light about the role of early anthropology and other nascent social sciences in movements like eugenics and the heritage of this early work in motivating massive abuses in the names of colonialism or other racial doctrines, Professor Raff stands out for her strong emphasis on cooperative research with the knowledge and approval of affected communities. It is sad to say but this emphasis in not a common one and many circles concerning research and its results. These issues of ethics, trust with indigenous communities, and the racialist tradition of some prior research strands are well discussed in the last chapter of the book, beginning with the story of “Kennewick” man. Finally, the book is extraordinarily well written. Sometimes it seems like academics are averse to employing editors for fear that some writing style may less a book’s impact by making it too accessible to broader publics. I could not disagree more and applaud the care taken in producing “Origin”. I hope she writes more about her work. I highly recommend the book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Barbaro

    This was a really interesting book about Indigenous populations in the Americas. I was expecting a book with more research details similar to David Reich’s 2018 book though. While Raff certainly includes these details and interpretations of the peopling of the americas she also discusses the ethics of dna research with native populations, and insights into ancient dna methods which I enjoyed. The book is broader than the title suggests.

  22. 4 out of 5

    timv

    Tour de force generalist survey of current understanding of the peopling of the Americas (with a very emphasis on the United States and Canada) that is highly readable and quite understandable. There is also a heavy emphasis on the lack of cultural understanding and sensitivity (and abuse of) of the current Native American populations by archaeologists throughout history up to and including the present. I thought the book was much better for this. It’s about time archaeology owns up to its troub Tour de force generalist survey of current understanding of the peopling of the Americas (with a very emphasis on the United States and Canada) that is highly readable and quite understandable. There is also a heavy emphasis on the lack of cultural understanding and sensitivity (and abuse of) of the current Native American populations by archaeologists throughout history up to and including the present. I thought the book was much better for this. It’s about time archaeology owns up to its troubled past… remember the old adage: dig up a white mans grave and you will get thrown in jail, but dig up a native’s grave and you get a PhD. I really liked the methodology she chose of telling the story through archaeological evidence and the arguments that have existed between archaeologists and then following that up later in the book with analysis of the genetic evidence. One thing I kept thinking when I was reading the book is that I wonder if archaeology tended to attract people who like to waive their hands and argue a lot, but is that is lesser nowadays because of the influence of genetic evidence? Jennifer Raff is a good writer and very clear communicator, which is necessary to tell this complex story. she cites for sister for making the book more readable, so my compliments to her sister also! The book is intended for a general audience and is pretty light on the technical details of genetics, which worked perfectly for me. If you’re interested in the story of the peopling of the Americas I highly recommend you give this book a try.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I couldn't put this book down! Fascinating book about ancient American DNA. The book also dealt with issues concerning Native American relationships with archaeologists historically. The only fault was that this book seemed to have a lot of filler and repetition. I couldn't put this book down! Fascinating book about ancient American DNA. The book also dealt with issues concerning Native American relationships with archaeologists historically. The only fault was that this book seemed to have a lot of filler and repetition.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    The material's important--a summary of the state of knowledge about the origins--genetic, archaeological--of Native Americans. The take home is that the Bering Strait theory isn't anything resembling adequate--it's a multi-variable story involving the ocean as well as the inland dispersions. The book itself is sorta clunky, largely summary of the scientific evidence, which I was glad to have, but a bit uncentered. The material's important--a summary of the state of knowledge about the origins--genetic, archaeological--of Native Americans. The take home is that the Bering Strait theory isn't anything resembling adequate--it's a multi-variable story involving the ocean as well as the inland dispersions. The book itself is sorta clunky, largely summary of the scientific evidence, which I was glad to have, but a bit uncentered.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Neal Fandek

    Not an easy read, for not much of a payoff: dense blizzards of genetic data that reveal a premise stated very early on. Footnotes are rambling and personal and are really asides, her own experience. Uh, this isn't a memoir, Jen? And she fictionalizes finds in a women's magazine style: annoying. Plus, Raff is uber-PC, which also gets old fast. Not an easy read, for not much of a payoff: dense blizzards of genetic data that reveal a premise stated very early on. Footnotes are rambling and personal and are really asides, her own experience. Uh, this isn't a memoir, Jen? And she fictionalizes finds in a women's magazine style: annoying. Plus, Raff is uber-PC, which also gets old fast.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Madeleine Becker

    On page 24 of Origin, Raff states something factually true and uncontroversial to anyone familiar with the subject matter: "museum collections are of tremendous value to science. But their formation caused incalculable harm to Indigenous peoples." There is a footnote for this assertion, not about desecration or dehumanization or stealing or any historical data or anecdote... just commending "Marvel movie Black Panther" for covering this topic and... I just can't let that stand I'm sorry. This ta On page 24 of Origin, Raff states something factually true and uncontroversial to anyone familiar with the subject matter: "museum collections are of tremendous value to science. But their formation caused incalculable harm to Indigenous peoples." There is a footnote for this assertion, not about desecration or dehumanization or stealing or any historical data or anecdote... just commending "Marvel movie Black Panther" for covering this topic and... I just can't let that stand I'm sorry. This tangent was maybe picked to inspire empathy from a broader [white] audience, but it was a poor first impression of the book for me, and honestly just made me feel jaded and sad, delaying me from wanting to read further, and earning the non-five star rating here. It didn't seem very serious. That being said, while I braced for impact the rest of the book based on this early encounter, Raff is clearly someone who does take issues of past atrocities in the name of science, scientific racism, and contemporary scientists taking advantage of Indigenous people, their remains, and DNA, extremely seriously. It is a large emphasis of the book, including a fantastic section after a genetics chapter tearing apart the use of commercial DNA tests as indicative of tribal identity. Overall, I think this is a fantastic primer for anyone who wants to learn more about the archaeological and genetic studies concerning the peopling of the Americas, with really clear writing and organization-- though I can always use more maps and summaries! Time is the major axis here and it was difficult for me at times to keep the varying chronologies straight, let alone orient them spatially. Raff employs cutting edge discoveries which really made me all the more eager to see what researchers find next! As is, the White Sands Locality 2 site is simultaneously so new and old that it's going to be fascinating to see how this subfield resolves the age old questions of American origins.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stefanie

    Jennifer Raff has written a book on the history of First Peoples in the Americas that contemporary Indigenous people could actually read and enjoy - no small feat. I would have loved to have her go a bit deeper into the cutting-edge genetics research, but the most vibrant (and significant, both in topic and page count) parts of this book are the discussion of ethical missteps and harms in the early (and current) fields of archaeology and paleogenetics, her first-person description of extracting Jennifer Raff has written a book on the history of First Peoples in the Americas that contemporary Indigenous people could actually read and enjoy - no small feat. I would have loved to have her go a bit deeper into the cutting-edge genetics research, but the most vibrant (and significant, both in topic and page count) parts of this book are the discussion of ethical missteps and harms in the early (and current) fields of archaeology and paleogenetics, her first-person description of extracting ancient human DNA, and the mind blowing (for me) presentation of the fact that geneticists have known the “Clovis First” theory was BS since the 1990s. The writing style is somewhere between “lay audience” and “academic”, and definitely assumes some knowledge of the fields, but Raff does do a great job laying out the evolution of the theories around the peopling of the Americas. She’s pretty fair even in presenting the ones that genetics evidence disproves or makes unlikely, although she does at one point state that she believes people were in the Americas previous to Clovis, at least 16-14kya (I agree with her). She mentions the White Sands footprints (dated to ~22kya) a few times but without much detail. And kudos to her for also covering the Arctic Circle and the Caribbean, which get much less attention. So this isn’t a true history with conclusions, but more a summation of where the theory is today, and how we got there. And certainly that we won’t go much farther without thoughtful partnerships with Indigenous communities in the lead. If reading that last sentence twists your panties, this probably isn’t the paleogenetics book for you.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    There's some really interesting information here, and those parts were 5 star worthy for me, but the book loses itself quite a bite. A more accurate subtitle for this book would be "A History of the Genetic History of the Americas" as Raff spends more of the book talking methodology and ethics than she does about the actual genetic history of the Americas. That's not to say that's not a worthwhile subject, but the expectation you have going in is definitely not what you get. There's an entire se There's some really interesting information here, and those parts were 5 star worthy for me, but the book loses itself quite a bite. A more accurate subtitle for this book would be "A History of the Genetic History of the Americas" as Raff spends more of the book talking methodology and ethics than she does about the actual genetic history of the Americas. That's not to say that's not a worthwhile subject, but the expectation you have going in is definitely not what you get. There's an entire section of the book where Raff describes in great detail all the steps one must take, in terms of dressing and sanitizing, to get into the room where you study the bones that give you the DNA to study the genetics of the Americas, which I could have done without entirely. A large portion of the book also covers situations where unethical research practices were used to obtain samples from indigenous populations to study their genetics, and that would have been an interesting book on its own, but I doubt Raff would be the one to write it, as she's a scientist, and didn't provide in depth analysis of those events, only using them to demonstrate why it's been so difficult to paint a portrait of early Americans. I think a better job in editing could have helped Raff narrow down what she wanted to talk about in this book and it would have been more satisfying, maybe for a smaller group of people, but it wouldn't have been trying to be so many different things.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    I'm not sure this book will be for your average reader or even your average non-fiction reader but if you have an interest in genetics or anthropology then this is a must read. Raff explores the varied theories about how indigenous Americans came to live in Alaska, mainland America all the way into South America. She details the evidence that has been uncovered for pre-Clovis people including tools, settlements and bones. She challenges the idea of the land bridge from Siberia and argues for a l I'm not sure this book will be for your average reader or even your average non-fiction reader but if you have an interest in genetics or anthropology then this is a must read. Raff explores the varied theories about how indigenous Americans came to live in Alaska, mainland America all the way into South America. She details the evidence that has been uncovered for pre-Clovis people including tools, settlements and bones. She challenges the idea of the land bridge from Siberia and argues for a longer occupation of Beringia. Most interestingly for me, she explores and argues the ethics of unearthing ancient people, discusses the impact of understanding genetic lineage for indigenous Americans and the breaches of trust and betrayals of the descendants of these people. I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot. I'd suggest doing it on audio. While at times the sciencey parts can be a bit dry for the non-scientist, she does give sections that detail her own personal experiences to make the book more readable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Richard Wise

    Full of interesting information but tedious at times. The author goes on preaching endlessly about the ethics of her profession. What's the difference between unearthing human remains and grave robbing? Aye, but that is not the question. DNA studies show that, in some cases, tribes claim human remains that are not really their ancestors. It's really more about navigating the politics and treating the remains with respect. The author does take on the current received wisdom and pokes a number of h Full of interesting information but tedious at times. The author goes on preaching endlessly about the ethics of her profession. What's the difference between unearthing human remains and grave robbing? Aye, but that is not the question. DNA studies show that, in some cases, tribes claim human remains that are not really their ancestors. It's really more about navigating the politics and treating the remains with respect. The author does take on the current received wisdom and pokes a number of holes in it. If modern humans were able to build boats and access the Australian continent 35,000 years ago, what would have stopped them reaching the American continent? An ice wall? Studies show that the Ice Age was really a series of ages interspersed with periods of warming lasting as long as a thousand years.

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